Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Is There A Discontinuity In Julian Barnes’s The Sense Of An Ending

A question to a well read friend:

A question for you if you’ve read Julian Barnes’s novel/la The Sense Of An Ending, which btw won the Mann Booker prize.

In movies when one scene illogically follows or flatly contradicts another or a character does or says something obviously against type or when in the setting there’s snow on the ground in say, Tahiti and all things like that, it’s commonly called a “failure of continuity.”

So in this novel/la, if you’ve read it, you’ll know that the narrator, Tony, a student at Bristol University, who broke up with his university girl friend Veronica, also at Bristol, and a girl most definitely on the make, learns that she’s now going out with his much smarter-than-him high school friend Adrian who is a Cambridge student. 

Tony out of a complex of motives writes an extremely nasty, angry letter to Adrian in which he excoriates Veronica, wishes them both all kinds of ill fortune and expresses enraged sorrow and pity for any unfortunate who happens to be their child. 

Tony then learns that Adrian has killed himself and that some of his angry spite turns out to bear some rough semblance to tragic events that have happened in Adrian’s and Veronica’s future lives. The latter chunk of the novel turns a lot on Tony trying to plumb the depths of those events, come to terms with them and to expiate his deep sense of guilt over the relation between his letter and those events.

But here to my mind is the discontinuity. Even if Tony’s young man’s nastily angry letter seems to approach presaging the future tragic events, how could anyone rationally think him to bear any guilt or fault or liability or blame or needing to answer, apologize and atone for that relation, when in common sense fact and by any reasonable measure he has none and needn’t. But the novel proceeds seriously as if there is some and he needs to, and significantly at that. 

There is no subterranean meaning in the novel that I can detect that wants us to understand that what seems discontinuous is in fact discontinuous even if the narrator and other major characters think, act and speak on the basis that blame and moral reckoning there are a plenty. 

So either I’m missing or misunderstanding something vital in the novel/la or a big fictional premise in it is flawed in the nature of discontinuity. I’ve read a few reviews but have found no mention made of what I ask. 

Any thoughts, if you’ve read The Sense Of An Ending?    

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